YOU’D BE AMAZED WHAT YOU CAN LEARN BY SITTING IN A RECORDING BOOTH FOR SIX TO EIGHT HOURS A DAY. And none of it has much to do with claustrophobia. Because if you’re claustrophobic, chances are you won’t find yourself in a recording booth to begin with. But if small, phonebooth-style enclosures, where your only connection to the time of day or night depends upon the moment you turn ‘on’ and ‘off’ a tiny LED light on a gooseneck lamp arm, are not going to send you and your back to the therapist’s couch (Psychologist & PT), then consider what we’ve learned by working within this special space:
Don’t tolerate, communicate.
Suck it up is for sissies. Or U.N. mediators. For narrators, especially those who engage in Duet and Dual Narration audiobooks? There’s simply nothing gained from tolerating the quirks, stomach growls, and giggles from your own stomach or that of your co-narrator when she or he is noising any of these acoustic interruptions. ‘Noising’ is our name for ‘making noise’. As in: “You’re noising…AGAIN.” During the past five years of working less than eight feet away from each other in two booths, and, on some projects, three feet away from each other in the open space of our 12×15 studio, we conclude that it’s far better to go with the flow and entertain the opportunities presented by the other narrator’s egregious noising than to pretend it never happened. Consider:
We’re co-narrating a fantasy novel that reads, at questionable moments, like an erotica. One character says to the other: “I really like your smile. And what’s that perfume you’re wearing?” Suddenly, the other narrator farts. (Don’t laugh. It happens.) Rather than pretend no one else in the room (even though there is no one else in the room but your other narrator) or no one else in the other booth (we monitor each other through headphones) didn’t hear anything, it’s far more creative to momentarily work it into the dialogue: “Oh! L’air du Skunk. Cheaper than Chanel #5 and guaranteed to turn heads when you enter or exit your next social affair.” At that point, if the other (offending) narrator hasn’t fallen out of the saddle, a.k.a. booth chair, then you might have to turn up the humor a notch. While turning down the gain on your pre-amp. But the tension-breaking results are far better than vainly attempting to hold in your laughter. This has direct application to most interpersonal confrontations and potential conflagrations in life.
Space is not the final frontier.
When traveling to another galaxy and you really have to go where no one has gone before, i.e., the loo, sometimes warp speed ain’t enough. If Bill Shatner, in addition to a lounge singer, travel company pitch man, and former Starship captain, were a poet, he might say: “Oh whoa is me // I have to pee // the next stop’s Alpha-Cen-tauri.” Exactly. But when sitting hour after hour in a recording booth contemplating the laws of time and space, you must remember: everything, including audiobook narration, has a season. At some point, no matter how hard your tailbone is hurting and your thighs have lost any feeling, or your bladder is about to go Supernova, you will be let out. So don’t let your space, otherworldly or closer to home, or in your home, define you.
Nobody’s baby is ugly.
Every narrator, at some point, wants to sink his or her teeth, gums, and tongue into a bestseller. But sometimes, because, hey, it beats eating Top Raman this month, you take on a project that, because of the author’s not-quite-mastery of the art of storytelling leaves you wondering if you’ll live until the Epilogue. Or page 29. Never, ever let that compel you to turn out anything other than stellar voiceover work. It’s been said that you can’t put lipstick on a pig, but the truth is, the audience is more forgiving of a so-so story if the narration delivers. (And they can be very unforgiving if it doesn’t.) So, treat every project, regardless of its literary merits, as if it were the world’s most beautiful child. Then help that child mature by bringing the author’s vision to the ear. Well, ears.
Don’t believe everything you hear.
“OMG! I totally aced that narration!” Something we say this to ourselves (Solo narration) or to our co-narrator (Duet / Dual Narration) when we’ve worked oh-so-hard at interpreting what we’re sure the author had in mind. During playback? Well, that can be more transparent. “That doesn’t sound anything like I thought it did!” and “WTH?” are not uncommon reactions when you find yourself trading hats from ‘Narrator’ to ‘Audio Engineer’ during Post. Ever tried to say a sentence or two at normal volume, then repeat what you just said only with your fingers in both your ears or while cupping your ears with both hands with your palms facing behind you? Ever recorded yourself on a Smart Phone or microcassette device and thought: ‘That doesn’t sound anything like me’? Well, take heart. We hear that Sinatra and Casey Kasem drew the same conclusions at times. It’s the nature of maxillofacial bone structure and auditory canals and probably Venice canals if you yell loud enough that because your ears are closer to your mouth, your voice, in playback, will almost always sound different than you thought it did.
Remember, it’s only a day job. Sometimes a night job.
Do Narrators have a life outside of the booth? Of course they do. He toils in the garden. She knits. He discovers that the only thing that can totally undo his Zen…are aphids. She is running out of shelves upon which to put her comforters, shawls, and sweaters. We do have a life outside the booth, and we make certain to avail ourselves of it. The difference: She works the nightshift. He works almost only in the day. And, during Duet and Dual Narration projects, they discover that there are a few hours where day and night actually meet on the 24-hour cycle. But come weekends? Or when she’s reserved the studio or he’s reserved the studio? The other narrator is sure to be leaving the novel at the studio door and finding joy where few microphones interfere. Though he did once point out that a particular sunflower grown from seed looked incredibly like a Yeti atop a mic stand. And in the winter months, she adds earmuffs to her portfolio of sweaters, shawls, and blankets. The point: working 9to5 or 9to9 is like any other occupation. Save for maybe professional vampirism, you gotta take time off if you want to keep your sanity.
And in a profession where we frequently play one character and then another and then another and sometimes more than 25 others in the same hour, if you want to preserve your sense of self, you have to know when to click off the ‘ON-AIR’ light.
Thanks for listening!
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Kendra Murray and Ralph Scott are the award-winning producer/narrator team at SQUEAKY CHEESE PRODUCTIONS in Petaluma, California. At this year’s SFWC, they’ll be hosting two audiobook seminars on Sunday, Feb. 19th: Nonfiction Narration for Author-Narrators and an Audiobook Expert in the Round panel featuring experts from Publishing, Narration, and Agency Representation. For a complimentary demo on up to five (5) pages from your fiction or nonfiction manuscript, visit them at: squeakycheeseproductions.com. Their ears are always on the prowl for really riveting writing that can play really well as, what Audible calls, a movie for the ear.